If Margaret Sheather was here today, she likely would be the first one to say that a memorial scholarship in her name would be too much of a fuss.

Margaret, a resiliently enterprising wife and mother of four, lived a practical and highly principled life in Melbourne, Australia, governed by a consistent and humble approach to doing what she merely considered to be the right thing -- helping the less fortunate without expecting praise or accolades in return.

It was a lesson she instilled by personal example in her four sons Simon, Martin, Andrew and Tim -- rambunctious yet most impressionable witnesses to her lifetime of contributions to charitable causes and to her community -- teachable moments that defined what truly mattered to Margaret up until her dying day on March 14, 2010, at the age of 80.

No doubt she would have blushed -- partly out of humility but equally with parental pride -- when her eldest son, Dr. Simon J. Sheather, professor and head of statistics since 2005 at Texas A&M University, established the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Statistics through the Texas A&M Foundation as a tribute to her many years of tireless dedication to helping others. The award is intended to continue her legacy of giving by providing financial assistance each year to the graduate student in statistics with the most outstanding master's research project during the previous academic year.

"I wanted to start the award to honor my mother," Simon explains. "She had done so many things for the community. She was very big on education and on making the most of what you had. It's a way to memorialize her memory and to help current students."

Simon's lasting gift to statistics in Margaret's name formally was recognized this past March in conjunction with the College of Science's annual Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner honoring all scholarship donors and their respective recipients. Dean of Science Dr. H. Joseph Newton presented a plaque to Simon and his brother, Andrew, who along with his wife, Jacinta, made his first trip to the United States to take part in the momentous occasion.

"She'd probably say, 'That's silly, what are you doing that for?'" Andrew says. "But deep down, she'd be very honored to have something in her name as recognition for all of the work that she did."

Hard work seemed to define Margaret's life. On top of being a full-time wife and mother, she worked night shifts as a nurse three nights a week at Prestonia Private Hospital for Geriatrics in Melbourne for nearly three decades. In addition, she spent countless volunteer hours organizing various school fundraisers to provide books and supplies for the children.

More often than not, the time that probably should have been designated for sleep or other personal "luxuries" was reserved for late-night baking sessions to ensure that the next bake sale was properly stocked or for planning new fundraising efforts altogether, such as the Parade College Art Show she helped start in 1974 that continues to this day, as well as "Coffee Morning with Brian Naylor," a popular Australian television personality.

While Simon and Andrew agree that showing kindness toward others rubbed off on them thanks to their mother at an early age, they each fondly recall one particular instance that distills the essence of Margaret Sheather right down to its exquisitely generous core.

One year the boys decided they were going to do some fundraising of their own for their elementary school. Every day for weeks, they set out with a baby carriage meticulously loaded with discarded beer bottles that they would sell for money. On more than one occasion, the wheels fell off due to the sheer weight of the bottles, leaving them no choice but to call their mother from a pay phone to request repair assistance.

"She might have just worked the night shift the night before, but she would get out of bed, get in the car and drive to where we were with a handful of bobby pins so we could repair the buggy and keep going on our way," Andrew says.

For Margaret, anything that benefited the school was a cause worth helping without hesitation or question beyond when and how. She believed in a quality education and wanted her boys to make school a priority. And although she was a strong proponent of higher education, she never forced any of her children to go to college unless they had the desire to do so. Margaret believed in allowing and empowering her boys to cultivate their own individual talents and interests -- and if that involved college, all the better.

Ultimately each of the boys chose paths best suited for them. Simon pursued academics, while Andrew and Martin both went into banking. Tim, always the hands-on type, forged a career in the automotive industry. In each case, Margaret played a proactive role in nourishing her sons' respective interests and offering practical words of guidance where appropriate along the way.

"You felt like you could always tell her stuff; she was full of worldly advice," Simon adds. "It's a great gift when you feel like you can tell a parent something first. She was fiercely loyal to her sons."

In Simon's case, she was instrumental in his decision to accept the position of head of statistics at Texas A&M. As fate would have it, it was on Margaret's birthday in 2004 that he told her he had accepted the job as department head.

As Simon made his transition from Sydney to College Station, Margaret made it a point to keep up with all the news and events happening in Texas A&M Statistics. However, by that time, she was physically unable to travel to campus to experience Aggieland and personally visit the department he was working so hard to improve. After her death, Simon found a way to establish a personal and permanent presence for her on his campus, dedicating a large live oak tree at one of the main entrances to the campus in her name just in time for Australian Mother's Day last year.

As a department head, Simon says he continues to be guided by the values he and his siblings learned from their mother, such as being passionate about what you do, making the most of what you have, and never forgetting to lend a helping hand to others. He says the endowment in his mother's memory serves as a symbol of his gratitude for those lessons that helped him reach pinnacles of success he never imagined he would.

"I learned a lot from my mother," Simon says. "She was one of my greatest advisors about things. It was the best department head training I ever got."

The award is but one of the most recent testaments to a department that has vastly expanded and improved under Simon's watch. Just last year, it debuted in a tie for 12th overall and third among public institutions in the U.S. News & World Report's initial specific ranking of the nation's best graduate statistics and biostatistics programs, which previously were combined with those for mathematics.

"Graduate students are the future; they're the lifeblood," Simon notes. "We are training the next generation. Graduate students are really important, and the thing that I love about my mother's prize is that it could be won by someone with an academic project, or it could be won by someone with a practical project."

Last fall Xialoei Xun, a standout in the graduate program who served at various times as both a teaching and research assistant within the department and as 2009-10 secretary of the Statistics Graduate Student Association, was selected as the inaugural recipient of the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award for her master's project, "Statistical Method on a Basic Tomograph Problem."

Although the pomp and circumstance associated with establishment of the award may not necessarily have appealed to Margaret, Simon says she would have enjoyed meeting recipients like Xun and learning about their backgrounds and interests, as well as the unique opportunity to offer the same tidbits of knowledge and life experience she did to her own children. Deep down, he says, she would have relished the fact that, even in death, she still is helping others.

"Our mother was a positive person," Simon says. "She always took the positive side of every situation and tried to figure out how you could make the best out of it."

To learn more about Margaret Sheather or the award named in her honor, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/sheathermemorial/.

For more information about memorial scholarships or other giving opportunities through the Texas A&M Foundation, go to http://giving.tamu.edu.


Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or cjarvis@science.tamu.edu

Jarvis Chris

  • Perpetual Giver

    Margaret Sheather lived her life helping others and will continue doing so even in death, thanks to an endowment establishing the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Statistics at Texas A&M University.

  • The Sheather Brothers

    Margaret Sheather worked tirelessly toward any cause that benefited her four sons (left to right) Martin, Andrew, Tim and Simon.

  • Maternal Bond

    Margaret and Simon at Carnsworth, 2006.

  • A Giving Legacy Celebrated

    Simon, along with Jacinta and Andrew Sheather at the 2011 College of Science Spring Recognition and Awards Dinner in March.

  • Memorializing Margaret

    A sprawling live oak stands tall and regal at the northeast entrance of the Texas A&M University campus in tribute to Margaret Sheather's memory.

© Texas A&M University. To request use of any of our photographs for educational use or to view additional options from our archive, please contact the College of Science Communications Office.

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